Monster Monday: Plague Maiden

It’s a reblog sort of day, and this. Is. Awesome. (Comments are disabled here to encourage discussion on the original post.)

Part Time Monster

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In the 14th century, plague ravaged most of Europe, killing nearly a third of the population. According to Slavic legends, the Plague Maiden wandered the lands. She was thin and pallid, dressed in white, carrying a bloodied handkerchief in her thin, long hands. Some sources say she wore a crown of poppies. She is called Morowa Dziewica in Polish, Pest Jungfrau in German (described as a blue flame), Pestflicka in Swedish.

Illustration by Zuzanna Krolik www.blodloth.tumblr.com Illustration by Zuzanna Krolik

Wherever she went, shaking the handkerchief, people got sick en masse and died in agony. Homes and streets would fill with dead bodies. Understandably, people were terrified of her (and the plague she brought) because she seemed unstoppable. Doctors were useless and often their cures did more harm than good.

There were several ways people believed that the Plague Maiden could be stopped, depending on the source. One was cutting off the hand that…

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La Cegua: Shifter Woman with Many Names

I didn’t have time to write anything yesterday, and it’s shaping up to be a monstrous Monday. So have a Monster Monday by Robin Rivera. Comments are closed here to encourage discussion on the original post.

Part Time Monster

monstermondaylogoCareening home on a dark and lonely road, a man pauses. His head is ringing from the drink and debauchery of his hours spent in the cantina. His wife and family wait for him, but he is not ready to return home. He glimpses a woman by the pond, and he creeps through the underbrush for a closer look. The young woman has just finished bathing and is combing her long hair. Silently the man approaches her. They are alone, far from the ears of others. She is easy prey.

Or is she?

Leering with his intentions, he lunges. His hands wrap cruelly around her flesh and he pulls her close. When she turns to fight him off, her hair slides back and reveals not the face of a frightened woman, but a monster. The body that looked so shapely and young moments before is now a ruin. Her breasts…

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Social Media Sunday: Some Thoughts on the Direction of This Here Blog

My quarterly stats are past due. The old stats page that I was using to take the simple screenshots and do quick-and-dirty trend analysis went away (thanks a big fuckin’ lot for that, WordPress gods!), and I’ve just not had the time to crunch numbers lately. I’ll discuss how we’ve done here this summer at some point. In general, we’ve taken a traffic hit and our engagement is down since June. That’s mostly because I’ve not been around enough to keep up the chatter.

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Today I am more interested in discussing what’s worked here over the last 21 months and why. This is important because we’re one quarter away from our two-year blogiversary, and because I think we need to do more of what’s worked best.

What’s Worked Best

Batman

Worked because Jeremy blogged Batman (an insanely popular character) here every week for almost eight months, and he did a good job saying interesting things about Batman characters.

The Walking Dead Recap/Reviews

Worked because Luther is one of the most entertaining bloggers around, TWD is very popular, and we timed his reviews to catch people at the right time to offer them a recap of the previous episodes before the next one aired.

Penny Dreadful Season 1 Reviewspenny-dreadful-ep-6

Worked because Diana is just plain good at writing about anything involving monsters, has an engaging, easy-to-read style, and picked a winner — a show with a small but engaged audience as it was airing for the first time.

Marvel Comics, especially Marvel Cinematic Universe blogging

Worked because Marvel is growing in popularity and David’s made good choices about what to focus on. Agent Carter and Guardians of the Galaxy both did very well; and Melissa’s Ant-Man post has also done well.

Sourcerer’s 11 Interviews

Work because they’re fun, easy-to-read, entertaining, and are good for capturing the attention of both this blog’s normal audience and the friends/readers of whomever is being interviewed.

A Handful of Blogging-Related and Social Posts

survivor-atoz_by_RetroI’m thinking of the Geek and Greet post, some of the A to Z organizational stuff, and a few of my Blogwanking posts. The Geek and Greet worked because I offered to do something for people who joined in and the event was an opportunity for people to get their blogs seen by other bloggers. The rest worked because they grabbed the attention of bloggers who are trying to up their games — and I say this a bit. Whomever else your target audience is,  it’s mostly bloggers who read and share blogs.

What’s Not Done as Well as Expected

Doctor Who Reviews

Will reviewed the latest season here at the same time I was reviewing it at Part Time Monster and Hannah was writing about it at Things Matter. That was a lot of fun, and it didn’t do so poorly that I’d rule out more Doctor Who. But it didn’t do what I expected, even though we timed the posts well. I think that’s because Doctor Who is so well-established that the competition for audience is just too intense for us to handle.

Penny Dreadful Season 2 Reviews

Again, not so poorly that I’d rule out a third go. But it didn’t do what the first season did — especially not with search traffic. Lots of reasons this could be. Penny Dreadful hit us just as we were wrapping up A to Z and neither Diana nor I had time to do much in the way of interacting because of offline stuff. But I think either a lot of people lost interest after the first season, or a lot more people were writing reviews this time around, and so we had a tougher time getting into searches.

House of CardsHouseofCards

Diana and I just plain played this one wrong. Everything about House of Cards says we should be able to work it for traffic. We got the timing wrong and we shouldn’t have done extensive recaps. I think the time to post about a Netflix series is either immmediately after it’s released, or AFTER everyone’s had time to binge on the whole thing. I don’t see episode reviews being an effective way to blog about series that are delivered all-at-once. Because no matter when you choose to publish them you don’t have a weekly timeslot generating internet buzz on a predictable schedule. I think the way to go with these is to do one to three posts per season and publish them either on Mondays or Saturdays.

Arrow

The performance of these reviews was the biggest surprise to me in all the time I’ve been doing this. I expected them to do way better than they did, because I know a lot of people who love this show, but the audience isn’t absolutely huge. And I don’t think the problem has anything to do with Melissa’s blogging. Everything else she’s published here has done just fine, and she usually gets good comments. I think we timed them wrong. We didn’t have a lot of choice, because we had to work around the UK air date. But Friday morning has always struck me as a bad time to post long-ish, serious posts. That’s why I mostly do music videos on Fridays. I also think we overestimated our ability to compete for searches, and we expected too much, given that Arrow was into its third season before we ever started blogging about it.

Actual Music Blogging

I’m not talking about the posts where I share a YouTube video and write a paragraph or a personal note about what it means to me. Both David and I have tried serious music blogging, and it’s just never worked for us. Could be that we’d need to blog about music once a week for a year to gain the traction to make it worthwhile. It could be that music blogging is just not a good fit here, or that people who like our comics and tv posts have different taste in music than we do, so aren’t interested in what David or I have to say about music.

Arrr, mateys!

Arrr, mateys!

Everything else has been within the bounds of my expectations. I don’t always make content decisions based on the traffic I think it’s worth. Sometimes I approve things for the fun and the mischief value. Sometimes I just want to give another blogger the chance to step onto the stage here and try to find a few new readers, which is a game of ones and twos no matter how you go about it. But I always have some idea what I think a series of posts should do, traffic-wise. I don’t approve things that have no chance of getting read, and when a post does exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly, I try to figure out why.

The Takeaway

Consistency, not Content, is King

Content quality and topic selection are vital, but the most important consideration, if you are trying to build an interest-based audience, is to offer the quality content on a schedule and do it so consistently that people just come to expect it. The most successful thing we’ve done here is comics, and we blogged about Batman every Wednesday for the better part of a year, then once the Batman run was done, we moved into Marvel without missing a beat just as the MCU was getting crazy-good. There’s no coincidence here.

Timing is as Important as Topic

It’s true that you have to write about things people are interested in if you want readers. But you also have to publish when people are looking for it. This is the lesson of The Walking Dead, Penny Dreadful, Arrow, and House of Cards.Arrow-arrow-cw-fanpop

Consider the Competition

If only a handful of big sites are writing about something, it’s possible for a blog the size of Sourcerer to get a slice of the search traffic (see Penny Dreadful above). But if everyone from io9 to the New York Times entertainment section is writing about a thing, best make sure you’re getting a lot of personal enjoyment out of your own writing, or bring friends along (see Doctor Who above).

Multiple Voices are More Compelling Than One on an Everyday Blog

If I had to, I could shut down my personal blog and run Sourcerer by myself. I could even keep the focus on pop culture and do comics every Wednesday. But if only I had been blogging here these past two years, I’d not have seen even the modest success we’ve achieved by publishing contributions from 12 to 15 bloggers.

What’s Next for Sourcerer?

Tl;dr version: Do more of what’s worked and less of what hasn’t.

Keep it up with the Comics

Comics is obviously the core interest at this point. Maintaining the quality of our Wednesday posts and finding ways to expand our comics offerings are the smartest things we can do for this blog over the next year. Since both comics and significant content from me are essential, it makes sense that I should find a way into comics. I’ve not written much about them here to this point because we’ve had so many contributors here who are better-versed and better at writing about the comics than me. That’s gotta change.

Get Smarter about the Television

I’d like to move away from blogging tv shows just because we like them. The time to blog about a tv series, honestly, is during its first season, unless you have a lot of advantages to work with (like we have with The Walking Dead). This means, for example, that while I might blog the next season of Doctor Who, I’m not twisting myself in knots to give it a prime posting slot, I’m looking at as a “just for fun” series, and I’m not asking anyone else to do it (though I’d certainly consider volunteers, because if someone else blogs Doctor Who here, that frees me up to do the same at Part Time Monster and we can link to one another in our posts).

I think we need to concentrate on Marvel Cinematic Universe series and promising new series (see what I said about Agent Carter and Guardians of the Galaxy above), and we need to figure out how to blog Netflix effectively. TV viewers who also read blogs are moving decisively to a “binge on instant video when you can find the time” way of interacting with television as opposed to the old “drop what you are doing and watch at the same time every week” pattern.

I’m thinking the way we’ve been blogging tv is eventually not going to be a sound scheduling strategy, no matter how well we do it. We’re approaching the point where the behavior of our tv audience has changed so much that posting a review the day after a tv episode runs, in and of itself, doesn’t get us anything we couldn’t get on our own by sharing on Twitter and Facebook.

More Book Bloggingtolkien2

Our book blogging has always been sporadic, but given that we’ve never done it consistently, it’s been successful. Some of our most popular posts in 2014 were book lists written by a variety of contributors. Rebecca Bradley’s reviews did well here, and the fact that our first few Sourcerer’s 11 interviews were author interviews timed to coincide with releases has helped that feature a lot. All this tells me that people who read and follow this blog are interested in books — and interested in the same sorts of books we are. This is our easiest and most promising area for real growth. There’s traffic here to be had for the asking, and we’ve not fully tapped into it yet.

Marvel Movies, Please

It’s just essential for this blog that we review every Marvel movie from here on out within a week of its release, publish those reviews at a prime time, and share them around, for as long as we continue to hang together. Absolutely essential.

More Collaborative Posts.

See the Hannah-Melissa collaborative review of Age of Ultron. That’s a sweet post — quality-wise, one of the best we’ve offered to date. And this is something we can do that very few blogs can. We’ve got a dozen contributors, easy ways of communicating with one another behind the scenes, and this blog to post on. Collaborative posts could be a thing for us, and I think readers will love them. This is a genuine advantage. It’s something we have that almost no one else does, and it’s compelling.

Sourcerer’s 11 Reorganization

SourcererCollageEventually, I want to have more than one interview per month. For now, though, I just want to keep them going. They’re good, but the “tag, you’re it!” model just isn’t going to work for a feature that comes around once a month. We set these up from the beginning so we could not only interview authors to coincide with book releases, but could also sometimes interview interesting bloggers who don’t have books publishing. I’m starting the blogger interview thread of these next month.

What we need for this is a pool of contributors who like to do these interviews, and we need to have a once-a-month discussion about who’s doing the next one and who they are interviewing. If, on occasion, I want to offer people we’ve interviewed an opportunity to interview someone else, I will. But just not something we can do with every interview, because it puts too many constraints on the schedule and limits the pool of potential interviewees.

More Contributors

Not a lot more, but a couple. People come and go here. We’re in a phase now where a lot of the people who have contributed over the last year are ending runs and have other projects they need to prioritize. We have a rule that contributors come and go as they please, and that once you’re to the point where I trust you to schedule a post, you’re free to pitch future contributions to me at any time — a week from now, six months from now, doesn’t matter. We’re ok to get through the fall as we are, but I’d be a lot more comfortable if we had another blogger or two in the mix here.

And that’s it. This is where I think this blog is, and this is my vision/direction statement for the next phase. I thought I needed to do this today, because we’re certainly moving into the next phase.

Penny Dreadful: Memento Mori Review (S2 E8)

We’re back this week with more Penny Dreadful Season 2–and I’m delighted to say that there will be a season 3 of the show and that we’ll be blogging it here again! Now, on to this week’s episode, the 8th of this 10-episode season. And my, what an episode it was. We *finally* see the picture of Dorian Grey; Lily goes on a feminist rant; and Lyle deciphers the Verbis Diablo. (Warning: This post is dark, and full of spoilers.)

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We open with Lily, and she’s pretty much where we left her last week—in bed with the corpse of a man she’s just strangled. On the way out, she knocks over a rather tall house of cards the man had been building—and one can’t help but see it as a symbol of all sorts of things that Lily would like to knock over.

The Creature, meanwhile, is tearing up Frankenstein’s lab and terrorizing his maker. He wants to make sure that Frankenstein remembers why he’s made Lily. Lily isn’t for Dorian or for Victor or for anyone else—she “belongs” to the Creature. I can’t help wondering what Lily is going to think of that, how she’s going to handle “belonging” to someone and being “created for” them.

When Lily does return home, Victor is eager to get her out of the city. He proposes a holiday away from London. Lily, though, says there’s more to teach her. More to do. It’s her new home, at any rate, and not one she’s keen to move on from. This is the first time I notice that Lily is talking without any impediment, without any strange diction, but I think it’s actually been happening since Dorian’s party.

Victor goes out to see Sir Malcolm. He’s worried about what love has done to him, mementomori3how it has changed him. Sir Malcolm is surprisingly close to the mark when he claims that love is an enchantment.

Lyle is making his way to the Murray house after an awful meeting with the witches. They’re concerned about where his loyalties lie and whether he’s telling the truth. It’s glaringly obvious now that Hecate has plans to overthrow Evelyn; she corners Lyle on his way out of the house to try and get more information about Vanessa and Ethan.

Back at Frankenstein’s home, the Creature visits Lily, stops by her room, and we get an idea of why Lily isn’t ready to leave London. She’s tired of being told what to do and when–she’s tired of corsets and high heels and so many of the restrictive mementomori1gender norms that marked her in life and now hold sway in death. She gives the best speech about it, and I remember again why I adore Billie Piper. Now beyond death, Lily is Something Else. She’s someone never to be used again.

And Lily has a completely developed sense of what she is, knows that Frankenstein has created her and that he created the Creature–I wonder how long she has known, how much of her relationship with Victor has been an act. Now, she swears men will bow to her—and she offers the Creature a place by her side.

Detective Rusk is also sniffing about. He discovers Sir Malcolm’s past visits to Scotland Yard and makes a visit to the Murray home in an attempt to discover why those visits stopped and how Mina Murray died. Sir Malcolm claims that the circumstances of her death were embarrassing to the family, and he absolutely denies knowing Ethan Chandler. Rusk is unconvinced but leaves anyway.

 

And Lyle has finished translating the Verbis Diablo. He reads the story aloud to Frankenstein, Sembene, and Murray, who are all stand around the table where the various artifacts that make up the Verbis Diablo are gathered. Murray is having trouble concentrating—perhaps because Evelyn is whispering devilish language into the ears of his fetish puppet.

Lyle reads the story aloud from the translated artifacts. It is the story of a fallen angel, yes—but it is also the story of his brother. When the rebellion had ended, God cleaved the brothers in two, throwing one into Hell to feed on souls (Lucifer) and sending the other to Earth to feed on blood. Only the Mother of Evil can reunite them. There’s some chatter about vampires, about why Vanessa is the chosen one, about why there’s always a woman as the evil conduit.

Helen McCrory as Evelyn Poole in Penny Dreadful (season 2, episode 6). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_206_0270

Sir Malcolm points out that the repeated phrase is “wolf” not “hound” of God right about the time that the enchantment of Evelyn is able to break through. Sir Malcolm’s eyes turn black and he upends the table, shouting and breaking the artifacts. Sembene is quick to his aid, though. He wrestles Murray out of the room and into an empty, dusty room. “Know who you are,” he shouts. And suddenly, Sir Malcolm has a vision and is able to break Evelyn’s enchantment.

Across town, Angelique is less-than-thrilled at being left home while Dorian is going out with Lily yet again. As he leaves, she she sees a draft of air, and she finds the portrait. Upon his return, he realizes what she’s done. There’s a bit of chatter, and despite Dorian’s kind demeanor, I’m on edge as he and Angelique talk about the portrait. And apparently, I was right to be. Right after saying she can accept him as mementomorihe is, as he truly is, the two share a toast—and then it’s goodbye Angelique, as she falls to the ground. The camera pans, and I’m worried it’s going to stop, but then—-we finally see The Picture. Dorian is old, disfigured. His skin is flayed off in spots; he is chained by the hands and feet, crouching like an animal. He’s hideous and sad.

But oh, now Sir Malcolm realizes that he’s been enchanted and is mad, mad, mad. He sneaks from the house alone with lots of ammo and a big gun. But of course, those things are virtually useless. He’s quickly captured by one of the younger witches and brought to Evelyn. She’s underestimated him, though. The tears she cries and her efforts to get him to join her are entirely unsuccessful.

She leaves him locked in a room with his hallucinations: three coffins for the members of his family. The lids creak open, and just as his family rises from their coffins, we cut away.

Next week, in the season’s penultimate episode, it looks as though we’ll see Vanessa and Ethan make their return to London and the characters readying for a final battle with the witches.